Detective Sergeant Rick Malone stood at the crime scene, looking down at the corpse—a pool of dried blood beneath the victim’s head, her hands bound with rope behind her back, her face covered with dark bruises, long cuts, and deep lacerations. The apartment was cool, close to seventy degrees, with a faint hint of cigarette smoke swirling in the air. The deceased was a white female, mid-twenties, about five-foot-five, and weighed approximately one hundred twenty pounds. The living room was in disarray, with the leather cushions ripped off the sofa, the La-Z-Boy recliner turned over on its side, and a cream colored bookcase broken and tipped over. Scattered all over the gray tile floor were books, some fiction, others nonfiction. Sitting on top of a tan entertainment center was a mid-sized LCD television, the black screen chipped, cracked, and broken. On the tile floor, in front of a shattered glass coffee table, were two ceramic lamps, both smashed to bits and pieces. Reaching into his blue blazer’s coat pocket, Malone grabbed a pair of latex gloves, snapped them on, and knelt down next to the deceased.
“This is the second tenant murdered from this apartment complex this month,” Malone said, turning the victim’s head from side to side. “She was beaten much worse than the last victim, though.” He paused for a moment, upset at the brutality of the crime. “She suffered a lot before she died, probably right up until she took her last breath. Her nose and jaw appear to be broken, along with her right cheekbone.”
Detective Jenny Peterson blew out a long breath. “Once again, it doesn’t seem like the motive could have been robbery. This is a one bedroom apartment. Small, cramped, barely furnished.” Peterson gestured around the room. “There’s hardly anything here of any value.”
“I checked the bedroom. Nothing looks disturbed—the king-sized bed made, the tile floor clean and spotless, and the dirty clothes stuffed in the hamper. No one rifled through the dresser and chest of drawers, all the contents neat, organized, and in order.”
“Seems like a personal vendetta to me.”
“What do we have to go on so far?” Malone got to his feet and looked around the cramped apartment. His fellow police officers were running crime scene tape, questioning a group of tenants outside of the apartment, and directing onlookers off the premise. Equipped with top-notch professionals, Malone felt confident in his team’s ability to conduct a thorough murder investigation. Thanks to having a group of professionals collaborating with each other, he didn’t think it was going to take them long to solve this case.
“The victim is Lisa Ryan,” Peterson said. “She’s lived here for the past nine months. Apparently, she was three weeks behind on her rent.”
“That was the case with the last victim, too. But she was two weeks behind on her rent.”
Peterson gritted her teeth. “It’s the same situation as before, playing itself out again.”
“Did the same landlord, Thomas Rice, discover the body?”
“Yes, he called 911 this morning, said he came here to collect the rent and found her like this.” Peterson looked skeptical. She was slim and strong looking, as if she spent most of her time at the gym. She had dark skin, a narrow face, and deep-set brown eyes. Her black hair was cut short, just above the ears, and parted on the side. “That’s exactly what the landlord said a week ago, when he found the first victim murdered in his apartment building.”
Malone was silent for a moment, thinking about the crimes. In all likelihood, both victims were killed for the same reason, their finances. “Where’s the landlord now?”
“In the parking lot, detained. He’s in a squad car right now, being questioned by one of our detectives.”
Malone watched Dan Henderson, the Crime Scene Unit crew chief, come into the little apartment and set down two heavy cases. He had a mob of black hair, wide brown eyes, and a heavily pockmarked face. Looking at his techs, he gestured around the room, obviously telling them to get a move on it. The techs went to work immediately, taking photographs, dusting for fingerprints, and collecting evidence. Malone looked forward to talking to Henderson about the crime scene, impressed by his reputation on the job, considered to be a first-rate employee with the Miami PD.
“It’s nice to see you again,” Malone said. “Too bad it’s always under dark, dismal circumstances.”
Henderson knelt down next to the deceased. “Look at the condition of her neck, all those black, blue, and purple bruises.” He fell silent for a moment, clearly in deep thought. With a gloved hand, he pried open the victim’s eyes, one at a time. “There are little, tiny red dots in both of the deceased’s eyes—extensive petechial hemorrhages. That’s a chief indicator that she was strangled to death.”
“Does anything else stand out to you?”
Henderson gave him a somber look. “I’ll get back in touch with you later today, after I’ve processed the crime scene.” He got to his feet, took out his digital camera, and started taking pictures of the deceased from different angles.
Malone looked back at Peterson. “Do you have anything else?”
“No, so far, that’s it. But I think we should go grill the landlord.”
Malone looked down at the deceased again, this time noticing something he hadn’t seen before. He zeroed in on something in her right hand—a tiny piece of silver, sticking out of her closed fist. Prying open her fingers, Malone removed a small silver ring with a blue topaz stone. “Now, that’s an interesting development,” Malone said, placing it into a glassine evidence bag.
Peterson looked confused. “Do you think she tried to give that to the murderer?”
“Let’s say the killer confronted her, demanded she come up with a lot of cash. Not able to comply, she could have acted out of desperation, trying to use this ring to barter for her life. But a little piece of jewelry like this isn’t worth much. Perhaps, a little over a hundred dollars, that’s all. So, it would have only made things worse, probably enraging the killer.”
“That may explain why he bashed her face in so bad.”
“Let’s go interrogate the landlord. Perhaps, he can shed some light on this crime.”
Malone headed out of the second floor apartment, Peterson following closely behind him. Stepping through the doorway, onto a narrow walkway, Malone stopped in front of a waist-high metal railing. A police officer and a girl pushed their way through the crowd of onlookers and stopped in front of them. The girl was young, probably in her early twenties, with a soft oval face, thick black hair, and red-rimmed brown eyes. She stood in front of them, her bottom lip quivering, tears gathering in her eyes.
Malone moved closer to her. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m in deep trouble.” Tears poured down her cheeks. “That’s my sister in there, Lisa Ryan.” She cupped her face with her hands and sobbed even harder. “I’m next on that maniac’s list. He’s going to come here and kill me, too.”
Copyright © 2022 RUSSELL WILLIAMS
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